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The real story behind Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ song

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The real story behind Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ song

The real story behind Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ song
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Behind the lasting legacy of the late Marilyn Monroe are a bevy of legends and stories that have since formed a life of their own.

One of them is the 60-year-old conspiracies regarding the late actress and former US President John F. Kennedy’s alleged love affair.

It was 1962 and Monroe charmed the world with her oft-quoted, breathy rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr President” to the 35th POTUS.

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Actress Marilyn Monroe sings
Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in 1962. (Bettmann Archive)

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The Some Like it Hot icon was celebrating Kennedy’s 45th birthday, albeit a week or so early, and was dressed in a rhinestone-encrusted dress recently brought back into the pop culture fold by none other than Kim Kardashian.

Both the dress and song outlived Monroe, growing to become almost as famous as her premature death just three months later.

Monroe had been invited by the Democratic party for a fundraiser at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, an event that preceded the President’s milestone birthday.

“I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”

She was introduced to perform in front of thousands by Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Peter Lawford.

Perhaps an eerie premonition, Lawford described her as the “late Marilyn Monroe”, only referring to her late arrival onto the stage.

Before she launched into her song, Monroe took off her white fur coat to reveal the iconic flesh-coloured dress, eliciting gasps from the audience.

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Monroe dressed in the iconic gown at the afterparty. (AP)

As she serenaded the president, a giant cake was brought into the room and Monroe encouraged the whole room to sing the final verses of Happy Birthday.

Following her sultry performance, the president made light of Monroe’s sex symbol status in his thank you speech.

“I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way,” he joked.

It marked one of Monroe’s final public appearances before her death on August 4, 1962.

It also resulted in the star being sacked from 20th Century Fox, as the performance purportedly violated her film contract.

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Monroe’s performance has now become irrevocably entrenched in modern pop culture, with endless parodies, references and impressions found in film, television and music.

In 1998, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell performed the same song for then-Prince Charles’ 50th birthday – singing ‘Happy Birthday, Your Royal Highness’ instead.

The song also inspired a new wave of conspiracies regarding Monroe and Kennedy’s apparent scandalous love affair.

Marilyn Monroe
Monroe died in 1962, just a few months after her performance. (Getty)

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After his 45th birthday celebrations, Kennedy retired to his suite at the famous New York City hotel, The Carlyle. It is said he was later joined by Monroe.

Theories have long circulated that secret tunnels were built to allow Monroe and Kennedy to rendezvous in private.

According to legend, the Carlyle has an underground tunnel system that allows the rich and famous to enter and leave the hotel without detection.

The Carlyle has never confirmed or denied these rumours.

Other celebrities to have allegedly utilised the “secret tunnels” include Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana.

Another theory regarding Monroe and Kennedy is the since-rubbished rumour the government orchestrated her murder to cover up the couple’s affair.

Conspiracy theories aside, Monroe’s song and dress – alongside her political affairs – will long live in notoriety.

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Monroe with US President John Kennedy and US Attorney-General Robert Kennedy in 1962. (Getty images)

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While it’s still hotly debated, friends and associates of the late iconic actress still insist there was a true love story between Monroe and JFK.

“The Kennedys could not risk this coming out because it could have brought down the president,” Monroe’s biographer James Spada told People in 2012.

“But the cover-up that was designed to prevent anyone from finding out that Marilyn was involved intimately with the Kennedy family has been misinterpreted as a cover-up of their having murdered her.”

However, a friend of Frank Sinatra who ran in the same circle as Monroe said she was always careful to never cross the line publicly.

Tony Oppedisano said in 2021: “She wasn’t about to break up [the president’s] marriage, so she wouldn’t let it go that far, even if she felt that deeply.”

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The Real Story Behind Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ Song

Marilyn Monroe’s iconic rendition of ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ is one of the most memorable moments in modern popular culture. The sultry song was dedicated to President John F. Kennedy on his 45th birthday and was performed in front of a packed audience at Madison Square Garden. This song, however, has a much richer and more interesting history than most people realize.

The song before 1945

The melody and chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ was written in 1889 by two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill. The lyrics soon became a staple of gatherings and parties throughout the United States. However, when Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday Mr. President” she was actually adapting lyrics written for the song in 1945 by country singer Tex Ritter as part of a tribute to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The words were entirely different from the ones we all know and love today. The original Ritter lyrics were:

  • Happy Birthday, Mr President, we are proud to be your citizens
  • Our fists are stiff, the Stamp Salute, Tom Dewey for a worthy man
  • You are the best of all president, You make us proud, what more can we say?
  • Good luck, you’re on your way!

The Milestone Year of 1960

Tex Ritter’s words were adapted by Marilyn Monroe in 1960 when they were changed to:

  • Happy birthday, Mr. President, you deserve the best
  • We’re glad you’ve had your moments of rest
  • Your courage and your wisdom too, help us in all that we do
  • So happy birthday, dear Mr. President

The adaptation of the words was coincident with the election of President Kennedy and was used to honor him on his 45th birthday. Monroe’s performance of the song was a hit, and the iconic moment went down in history.

Frequently Asked Questions about ‘Happy Birthday MR President’

Who wrote the song?

The original melody and chorus were written in 1889 by two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill. The words were adapted by Tex Ritter in 1945 and then adapted by Marilyn Monroe in 1960.

When was it performed?

Marilyn Monroe performed ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ in honor of President Kennedy’s-45th Birthday at Madison Square Garden on May 19th, 1962.

Is the song copyrighted?

Yes, the song is copyrighted and is owned by Time Warner. Therefore, any unauthorized use of the song could result in legal action.


Marilyn Monroe’s iconic rendition of ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ is one of the most memorable moments in modern popular culture and has become a part of pop culture history. The melody and chorus of the song were written in 1889 and adapted in 1945 by Tex Ritter, and then reworked and altered by Marilyn Monroe in 1960 for President Kennedy’s 45th Birthday. The adapted lyrics have been immortalized in pop culture, and the song is still seen as a tribute to the late President. The song is copyrighted and owned by Time Warner and any unauthorized use could result in legal action.

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Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth is the New York Times bestselling author of Divergent, the first novel in a series she started while still in college. Ms. Roth, who is now a full-time writer, and her husband live in the Chicago region. Some of her art is available online at
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